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The Sheppard subway line's Don Mills Station. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
The Sheppard subway line's Don Mills Station. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's transit plan wins provincial approval Add to ...

The Ontario government will give the green light to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's $12.4-billion bid to completely bury a crosstown light-rail line while using private money to pay for two extensions to the city's Sheppard subway.

If built, the LRT under Eglinton Avenue would be the longest all-new subterranean transit line constructed in Canada since the 1960s, connecting the city's busy midtown district with far-flung suburban neighbourhoods to the east and west.

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The province will pay for the Eglinton line, along with the cost of replacing the deteriorating Scarborough Rapid Transit elevated train with LRT technology, at a total cost of $8.2-billion. The city, meanwhile, will be on the hook for the $4.2-billion cost of expanding the Sheppard subway.

The contribution, to be announced just two days after the provincial budget, does not represent any new spending, but rather is money that had previously been committed to build the first four lines of the Transit City light-rail plan of Mr. Ford's predecessor, David Miller.

The new plan will also involve $333-million in federal grants that had been pledged previously.

The announcement also helps Mr. Ford fulfill a key campaign pledge to kill Transit City, largely seen as the capstone of Mr. Miller's career, which would have seen most new rapid transit lines, including much of the Eglinton LRT, built above ground.

Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty will make the announcement at 9 a.m. Thursday morning at Wilson subway station with Mr. Ford and Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne.

In exchange for the province's commitment, which was hammered out in negotiations with the mayor, the city will assume full responsibility for raising private funds for the Sheppard subway, which will be extended eastward to Scarborough Centre and west to Downsview Station on the Spadina subway line.

The proposed Eglinton line will run from Black Creek Drive in the west end to Kennedy Road in the east, a distance of roughly 18 kilometres. From there, it will connect with the Scarborough LRT, which will run to Scarborough Centre. Work is to begin on the line this year and be completed by 2020.

Toronto Transit Commission chair Karen Stintz said city officials are in the process of applying for federal support from a $1.2-billion infrastructure fund set aside for public-private partnerships. The submission deadline is June.

"We have to develop a business case demonstrating that we have revenue streams to pay back the private investment," she said.

Some councillors, however, argued that the merits of burying all of the Eglinton and Sheppard lines were not clear, particularly since many of the areas along their paths are low-density suburban neighbourhoods that might not have enough transit riders to generate the revenue the city needs to pay for the cost of operating underground transit.

Building underground is also roughly three times as expensive as building surface transit lines, meaning the city cannot afford to extend rapid transit to as many parts of the city.

Councillor Josh Matlow, whose ward will be served by the Eglinton LRT, applauded the province's commitment but called for the plan to be examined in detail and voted on by council.

"We can't make decisions just because the mayor says, 'We want a subway, so let's build it,' " he said Wednesday. "We need to have a thoughtful debate at council about what would be a financially feasible transit plan that can be accessible to as many Torontonians as possible."

Mr. Ford did not respond to a media request Wednesday evening, but Ms. Stintz said the city did not have to seek council's approval, since the new Eglinton plan involved funds that had already been allocated by the province.

She said the Sheppard plan would be brought to council once the city hammers out a financing arrangement.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who sits on Mr. Ford's executive committee, said the new plan may have to go through the transit commission, but said Transit City had set a precedent on council involvement.

"My recollection was that the original Transit City proposal never went to council, either," he said.

The new plan would replace three of the first four Transit City lines - Eglinton, Sheppard and the replacement for the Scarborough line. The Finch LRT would be cancelled outright.

The LRT is not the first time the city and province have attempted to build a rapid transit line underneath Eglinton Avenue. In the 1990s, they planned a subway from Bathurst Street to York Centre and began digging. The project was ultimately cancelled and the tunnel land-filled.

John Lorinc is special to The Globe and Mail, with a report from Karen Howlett

Follow on Twitter: @adrianmorrow

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